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Color photo of two men shaking hands and smiling while a young woman looks on, smiling
Alan Gevinson (left) greets actor Gary Sinise and his daughter Ella at the Library’s Bob Hope Gallery. Photo: Abby Brack Lewis.

My Job: Alan Gevinson

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Alan Gevinson will retire later this year as special assistant to the chief of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, during the ’50s and ’60s. After getting my driver’s license at age 16, I discovered a world of foreign films and classic Hollywood movies screened at funky Washington, D.C., repertory houses that no longer exist. I was hooked.

Later, I went to a small liberal arts college, where I was able to run the film society for a year. Afterward, I spent two years at New York University’s Graduate Institute of Film and Television learning the craft of filmmaking. I wanted both to make and study films, but after working on a few television documentaries, my filmmaking career path came to a dead end.

I was fortunate, though, to land a job with the American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films project in Los Angeles, researching, editing, writing and viewing films for a series of reference books. It was really a dream job, especially because of the collegiality of my fellow AFI catalogers.

After 12 years, I went back to school, this time in cultural studies at George Mason University. A couple of years later, I migrated to a Ph.D. program in history at Johns Hopkins University. I then did adjunct teaching in GMU’s graduate history program before beginning my current job at the Library in 2011.

What brought you to the Library?

In 1980, after my first year at NYU, I worked in a summer job in the Prints and Photographs Division helping Beverly Brannan organize the Alexander Graham Bell and Toni Frissell collections. When I’ve mentored interns in recent years, I’ve told them I hope the experience of immersing themselves in a sea of primary sources and learning ways to make sense of them is as rewarding for them as it was for me 40 years ago.

Over the ensuing years, I worked in a variety of temp and contract jobs for the Library. When my current position was created in 2011, I jumped at the opportunity to bring a cultural history perspective to NAVCC projects.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Over the past 10 years, I’ve worked with fantastic colleagues at the Library and GBH, Boston’s public broadcaster, on the American Archive of Public Broadcasting project. To date, we have digitally preserved more than 160,000 public television and radio programs from more than 500 stations, producers and archives at NAVCC and made more than 100,000 available online for free on the project’s website, americanarchive.org. It is managed by GBH but co-branded by both institutions.

The collection includes a wealth of local programming from all over that now is accessible nationwide for the first time. AAPB offers many programs produced by Black, Latino, Asian and Native American communities who long have advocated for the public broadcasting system to live up to its foundational goal of diversity.

And we make available online tens of thousands of nationally acclaimed news and public affairs shows, like the Bill Moyers and PBS NewsHour collections and 40 years of Harry Shearer’s wickedly clever weekly satirical radio program “Le Show,” which I listened to on Sunday mornings in the 1980s when I lived in LA.

It’s been immensely rewarding to work with hundreds of people throughout the nation who respect the mission of public broadcasting and with talented Library interns who have created wonderfully engaging exhibits for the AAPB website on a variety of salient topics.

What are some standout moments from your time at the Library?

I was honored to show Rep. John Lewis clips of himself from a 1960 television documentary on the Nashville sit-ins at the opening of “The Civil Rights Act of 1964” exhibit, curated by Manuscript Division historian Adrienne Cannon.

In conjunction with an exhibit in the Library’s Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment, I gave tours to Norman Lear and his family, Gary Sinise and his daughter and Paula Poundstone and her daughter. I also gave a presentation to the Military Officers Association of America, where almost all hands in the packed house went up when I asked how many had actually seen Bob Hope at a Christmas show during tours of duty in Vietnam. The indelible impact of entertainment in wartime really hit home to me that instant.

But my most memorable moment occurred during a research trip to the Library in the early 1990s when I still worked for the AFI. As I was viewing a 35mm film, a hand tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and looked for the very first time into the face of the woman who would become my wife, Nancy Seeger, then a recorded sound cataloger. She had been told by our mutual friend, Sam Brylawski, that she should meet me. Nancy retired from the Library a few years ago, and I’ll join her in retirement in the spring.

What’s next for you?

When I met Bill Moyers at a Library event a few months ago, he gave me a word of advice about what to do once I retired. Read, he said. I look forward to taking that advice.

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Comments (3)

  1. I will be sharing this with my students–high schoolers on the cusp of life–they will enjoy the joy within Mr. Gevinson’s words about his experiences in his chosen career. Enjoy those days of reading with your wife Mr. Gevinson and thank you for all of your time you have made (what I consider fun) to make a teacher’s classroom life a joy to share with her students.
    Diane Garcia
    Kingsville, Texas
    P. S. that includes the work in recordings also.

  2. Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Movement!

  3. that’s pretty cool about bob hope. he worked hard, many don’t know. i was reading this morning about a plane crash in alaska in 1942 where three uso troupers died; they were all posthumously inducted into the WAACs; heroes all. you too, alan, nancy and sam.

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